The wireless network configuration encompasses several potential variations from one environment to another. Even in a complex single site, the basics of network setup required for a successful implementation can vary from one wireless network to another running on the same hardware as part of the overall wireless LAN environment.
At the same time, there are some common tasks that go into any successful wireless project, including a number of key network setup steps. Let’s take a look at the high-level, granular steps wireless professionals should take when implementing enterprise-grade Wi-Fi networks.
Collect network requirements
Before tackling specific network configuration steps, you should understand the operational requirements of the environment.
For example, the wireless environment of a large university has several sets of requirements for different paradigms. The guest network requires different configuration steps than the general purpose secure network. Wireless services enforce goals and policies, but if you don’t set those goals and policies, you won’t know what network setup steps you need to take.
Design and survey
It is one of the most critical steps in the overall process of bringing successful wireless to life. When you need to tackle the basics of wireless network setup, a proper survey-based design will show you how to tackle everything from cable placement to discrete wireless LAN (WLAN) hardware settings.
Neglect this step – or leave it to unqualified personnel – and it can lead to costly rework.
Implement WLAN components
This is where the wireless network setup steps defined by your requirements and system design are actually implemented. At this stage, the goal is not to have any unknowns or guesswork.
If business security is an important consideration, you will follow the basics of setting up the type of extensible authentication protocol, RADIUS servers and timers, and the encryption used. If you are configuring security based on a pre-shared key, your configuration steps should include strong pre-sharing values and encryption types suitable for the client devices used. On a guest network, there may not be real security. Again, the requirements determine these parameters.
Also, at this point you will need to tackle crucial radio specific parameters such as power and channel. While it is best to leave this territory to trained professionals, there are some basics of wireless network setup that you should always keep in mind.
- Never use channel widths beyond 20 MHz in 2.4 GHz.
- Stick to channels 1, 6 and 11 in 2.4 GHz and make sure you understand the importance of minimal interference between the channels in the two bands.
- In 5 GHz, avoid the temptation to use 80 or 160 GHz channels unless your network consists of a single access point with no neighbor within radio range.
- Avoid 5 GHz dynamic frequency selection channels if you do not understand them.
- In both bands, be aware that high power creates more problems than it solves.
- If you feel lost on the radio side, hire a consultant to save you money in the long run.
- Make sure your switch infrastructure and Power over Ethernet capabilities match the Wi-Fi radio technology you are using.
The Wi-Fi network is only part of a network environment. From switch ports to Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol server settings to firewall rules, some of the basics of network configuration go far beyond WLAN. The key to successfully completing these setup steps is to make sure that you understand the entire environment. This may require a number of staff working together before this is done.
This is another step that is often overlooked. Procedurally, the verification tests fall between “OK, everything is configured” and “Let’s give this WLAN to our users”. This is where all your network configuration steps are validated.
You will need to thoroughly test the Wi-Fi coverage and signal density and performance with the same types of devices that will be using the network. In addition, exercise each type of security used for all service set credentials before allowing real users to access them. This step is where issues are resolved before you go online.
There is not one set of basic configuration steps for all wireless networks. But, as detailed here, this repeatable process can help you learn the basics of network setup requirements that any Wi-Fi environment needs.
Today’s enterprise WLAN systems have more moving parts, and the basics can be obscured in the haze of functionality. But use the five steps described here as a high-level approach and you’ll get much easier access to the basics of setting up the network as they apply to your own situation.